To the NFL and Back

According to some hurried research by my “team,” approximately 2,600 National Football League players have won Super Bowl championships and therefore have earned the right to wear a Super Bowl ring. To date, only one player – Charles Haley of the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys – has won five rings. The list of four-time winners consists of thirty-four players, with the latest addition being Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the lion’s share, twenty-two, of those with four Super Bowl rings. That only makes sense considering that the Steelers have won the most Super Bowl games – six. (The 49ers and the Cowboys follow with five wins each.) 

Now here’s where the research gets a bit incomplete. A number of those 2,600 or so ring-winners have won three times. I don’t have an exact number, although somewhere out in the interwebs there has to be someone who knows. So, somewhere between the four- and five-time winners (35) and the total number of players who have been on a winning Super Bowl team (a certainly non-exact 2,600) lay those winners of a Super Bowl triad. 

It’s bound to be a pretty impressive number – impressive in the sense of its exclusivity. It’s not as special, say, as the number of astronauts. Or Presidents of the United States. But considering how many NFL players there have been, it’s pretty darned … well, super. 

Roy Gerela is a member of that club. And he certainly had no idea when, as a youngster, he was playing soccer, baseball, and ice hockey in Canada or graduating high school in Hawaii or even when he was playing football for New Mexico State University that one day he would be wearing one of those honkin’ gold and diamond rings. But there it is on his finger. I’ve seen it. He even took it off and let me hold it. It’s big. And heavy. I got the feeling that one almost has to be in shape just to carry it around.

Roy came to New Mexico State in 1965 and played running back and defensive back as well as punting and kicking off.  But he was kicking “straight on” in the traditional kicking style. Being motivated by the success of foreign soccer players, such as Jan Stenerud and Garo Yepremian, who were being drafted by the NFL, he began to experiment with kicking soccer-style field goals and became the first Aggie kicker to use that technique.

In 1969, Gerela was drafted by the Houston Oilers (Remember them? They’re now the Tennessee Titans) and then signed with the Steelers in 1971. His illustrious career included those three Super Bowl championships (1975, 1976, and 1979) and he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1973 and 1975. He led the American Football Conference in scoring in 1973 and 1974.  Roy was a Steeler-fan favorite and had his own rooting section dubbed “Gerela’s Gorillas.” The last three games of his career were with the San Diego Chargers but a groin injury forced him into retirement.

In 1991, Gerela returned to New Mexico State as an assistant coach under head coach Jim Hess, where he coached tight ends and special teams. But in 1997, he decided to try coaching at the high school level and took a job as an assistant at Gadsden High School. He went north of Las Cruces in 2003 to Hatch Valley High School where he was an assistant for two seasons. Roy returned to NMSU in 2005 as a graduate assistant. Among his other duties, he oversaw the Aggie kicking game for head coach Hal Mumme until 2008.

He took on a considerable challenge in 2012 when he agreed to be the head coach at Gadsden. However, it was not something he ever intended to be long-term. 

“All I want to do is get a program started in the right direction,” Gerela told The Albuquerque Journal at the time of his hiring. “Then turn it over to a young guy and let him keep it going.”

The Panthers went a very respectable 5 – 5 and then 4 – 6 during Gerela’s two seasons as head coach. This was a vast improvement for a school that last had a winning season in 2000 and had not been to the playoffs for more than 40 years, but Roy felt he was ready to move on from coaching.

Since the summer of 2014, Roy has been working with a high school friend on developing some resort properties and for the last two years he has been working as the southern New Mexico ambassador for the Heads Up Football program. Heads Up is USA Football’s national initiative to make the sport of football better and safer by providing training and certification for coaches as far as concussion awareness, equipment fitting, heat and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, and proper tackling and blocking techniques. Gerela works to increase awareness and encourage coaches to become certified.

When I asked him what life lessons he took away from his time in the NFL and working with great coaches as well as some of the greatest players of all time, he was fairly quick to respond.

“It’s about basics and fundamentals,” he said. “It’s like preparing for battle, whether it’s for a game or making a business deal. You need to look at what you have to contribute but you can’t let ego get in the way. And whatever you do, don’t panic. Panic is the worst.”

Sound advice from someone who didn’t panic when Dallas Cowboy Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson was returning the opening kick-off in Super Bowl X. Gerela tackled him, holding the return to 48 yards. He broke two ribs but still kicked two field goals and an extra point in Pittsburgh’s 21-17 victory. But he didn’t mention that memorable incident in our interview, I had to rely on my crack research team to dig it up. So that makes me think Roy Gerela follows his own “ego” advice as well.

Spring 2015
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